Collapse of old chinese building at Junior High 32 in historic preservation area

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Old Chinese building in the courtyard of Junior High 32 before its collapse.(photo: IO/Fino Suhanta)

IO – On the 21st of December 2017 a 19th century Chinese building standing in the courtyard of Junior High School 32 in the Pekojan district of Jakarta col­lapsed. Both the roof and second floor gave way and the front façade caved in. The school was fortunate that no lives were lost for the building with its dis­tinctive swallow tail roofs, was used for prayers and extracurricular activities including scout meetings. That day the school children had just finished prayers for the Prophet Muhammad’s birth and left the building at 10 am. It collapsed at roughly 12: 30 am. A teacher who remained in the building suffered head wounds and was rushed to the hospital where she is recovering, while another employee sustained some minor injuries. Next to the school a car and motorcycle were damaged by falling debris.

The history of the building is not al­together clear but sources seem to in­dicate that it was built at the end of the 19th century and belonged to a wealthy Chinese merchant who established a small inn frequented mostly by other Chinese merchants. At the time Sun­da Kelapa Harbor had already silted up and become shallow so that larger ships could no longer enter the harbor. They remained in the roadsteads while myriad small feeder boats brought car­goes and passengers from the ships down the city canals to their destina­tions. In front of Junior High 32 lies what was once known as the Western Outer City Canal. Merchants frequent­ly travelled down the canal and would have been glad of an inn to spend the night. Apparently, in the 1920s the inn was extended by what are now the Art Deco style school buildings of Junior High 32. Later these became a Chinese school which after 1965 was taken over by the government and turned into a state school.

The building has for many years been in a state of dilapidation. Depu­ty head of Comission E of the regional parliament, Ashraf Ali (PDIP) who vis­ited the site after the collapse of the building expressed his frustration at the sluggish performance of previous Jakarta administrations. According to Ashraf the school had over the years under various headmasters repeated­ly pleaded with both the Department of Education and the Department of Tourism and Culture of the Jakarta municipal government to renovate the building. Their request was however never met with any concrete action.

West Jakarta Mayor Anas Effendi’s first reaction was to state his intention of demolishing the remains of the build­ing. He also started that the Chinese building is a heritage building but that the school is not. Jakarta archaeologist and specialist DR Candrian Atthayyatt who is a member of the Jakarta Re­gional Team of Heritage Experts said that although the team had already begun to review the building it had not yet been declared a regional heritage building. The previous administration has left Governor Anies Baswedan with a list of 600 historic buildings in Jakar­ta that require his approval to be de­clared heritage buildings. The Chinese building in Junior High School 32 as well as the school itself which is a fine example of the Jakarta local Art Deco style in the Pekojan historically listed area, should be on that list. According to Candrian the national law on heri­tage also protects buildings only sus­pected of being heritage buildings and still under review.

Bambang Eryudhawan, Head of the Jakarta administration Conservation Project Review Board and former head of the Young Indonesian Architects As­sociation inspected the site last Sunday and said that the building could still be restored and that fragments of the building should be collected to be used for restoration of the second floor and roof. Even though it has not yet been declared a regional heritage building it is located in an area already declared a protected historic area which means that all historic buildings in that area are protected by law.

The Governor of Jakarta has in­herited a complicated situation with regard to heritage preservation in Jakarta. The national heritage law of 2010 has made the maintenance and preservation of heritage buildings a far more complicated task than it was in former times. Many officials appear to have no idea of the requirements of the law and no training in heritage pres­ervation. Add to this the difficulties in communication between government institutions in general and it is small wonder that there seems to be such a confusion amongst regional officials re­garding the collapsed historic building in Junior High School 32.

According to the Indonesian her­itage law of 2010 the owner of a his­toric building is required to maintain and restore the building. In this case that would be the Jakarta government Department of Education. The Jakar­ta Department of Education however has complained that legally they may not restore an old building without a prior recommendation from the City of Jakarta Conservation Project Review Board which has not been forth com­ing with the required recommendation.

“They only came once and did not have an architectural plan, a heritage architect or expert. Under those cir­cumstances we could not issue a rec­ommendation as our job is to evaluate whether their plans fulfills the require­ments of the law,” explained Bambang Eryudhawan.

Prof Mundardjito, head of the Jakar­ta Regional Team of Heritage Experts which has the task of recommending buildings for inclusion in the regional heritage buildings list, now proposes a review of the building and the pos­sibility of withdrawing it from the pro­posed heritage list. The Mayor of West Jakarta has indicated that he would like to simply tear down the remains of the building. It would be the easy way out . There has been other past major incompetence by Jakarta city officials that has resulted in the unnecessary destruction of significant heritage structures. The West Jakarta mayor­alty already negligently tore down two important Jakarta heritage structures in 2016 during the razing of the Old Town Fish Market area. This included destroying a section of the remnants of the north-west city wall of 1645 and Bas­tion Zeeberg (1639-1645) one of the two remaining bastions of the old city wall.

A better solution would be to either have the Jakarta Tourism and Culture Department guide the Jakarta Edu­cation Department on how to obtain the needed recommendation and how to carry out a good restoration of the building or alternatively issue a new regulation providing that the resto­ration of all heritage buildings or struc­tures owned by the city administration shall in future be the responsibility of the Jakarta Department of Tourism and Culture in coordination with the Jakarta Public Works Department.

It would be a shame if the 19th century Chinese building at Junior High School 32 were also lost and not restored as it represents historic proof of the capital’s multi-cultural heritage which stands as an example for the rest of the nation. It is also listed in the UN­ESCO dossier for world heritage status for the Old Town area of Jakarta which is currently under assessment by UN­ESCO.

(Tamalia Alisjahbana)